Friday, October 11, 2013

FREE GM Alex Yermolinsky lecture on Sunday, October 20

The Chicago Chess Center invites you to a free public lecture by Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky at the Faraday Elementary School, 3250 W. Monroe (Monroe and Kedzie), Chicago, on Sunday, October 20th, at 2 p.m.  Free parking is available on campus.

In his 1999 book The Road to Chess Improvement, Alex Yermolinsky at age 41 looked back at a crisis in his career at age 28.  Back in 1986, Yermolinsky, who was then still living in the Soviet Union and who had had some success as a player and trainer, found himself unable to move to the next level.  In his own words:

[In 1986] I was already an established player somewhere between strong [international master] and weak [grandmaster] strength, even if I held no international title.  I could cite the lack of opportunities afforded to me by the Soviet State, but honestly, I am not sure I deserved many of those. Year after year, I went through the same mesh system of qualification tournaments, only to prove once again that I was good enough to reach the First League of the USSR Championship, but not good enough to get I to the Premier League. Seven years, man, it was going on for seven years, and back to Square One every spring! [....] I felt like I was back in my junior years, when in every tournament there would be someone else, not me, taking that next step.  I think I could have easily quit chess, but to my surprise, I never did.

The problem I had to acknowledge was the stagnation of my development. I was simply going nowhere. It's not that I lacked experience—I was 28 years old then, and I have been playing chess for some 20 years up to that point—it was rather a sad realization that my game was not improving.

Alex Yermolinsky turned his career around by beginning to seriously study his own games.  This hard work led to significant results.  After emigrating to the USA, Yermolinsky earned the Grandmaster title in 1992, won the 1993 US Championship and a second US title in 1996, became one of the top twenty players in the world, and represented the USA twice on first board of the Olympiad team. 

In the past decade, Grandmaster Yermolinsky has focused on teaching and training other players—he is one of the most popular lecturers on the Internet Chess Club.  He offers no magic bullets or easy answers to aspiring players:

A good teacher should leave students enough room to try different things on their own.  One common mistake is to teach based on "one’s own experience."  It's not objective or even truthful.  The wrong turns taken and mistakes made by the teacher tend to be swept under the carpet and the former player, now teacher, begins to idealize his or her past as a straight path to knowledge and skill that all students must diligently follow.

Teachers should remember how they learned skills through their own trial and error, and therefore students are better off choosing their own path.

Grandmaster Yermolinsky’s lecture will be of interest not only to chess players and coaches, but also to educators interested in a field report on the acquisition of expertise and in methods of passing hard-won knowledge down to one’s students, and methods of teaching students to think critically and independently.

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